Tuesday, August 30, 2011

SoundBytes XL

We have many things to discuss, so we are posting another edition. This time, we will talk about an annual event at the Durango and Silverton, known as Railfest, The second installment from Jeff Johnson about gathering research and collecting prototype data for Blackstone Models, and a primer about the features and uses for our new SurroundTraxx. Also, don’t forget about the National Narrow Gauge Convention coming up soon, September 7th through the 10th in Hickory, NC

RailFest 2011

The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Held its annual Railfest this past weekend. This annual event invites narrow gauge fans from all over to partake in special events, photo trains and excursion runs featuring visiting narrow gauge equipment. This year, the Eureka and Palisades #4

and the Rio Grande Southern Galloping Goose #5 were running, along with Denver and Rio Grande Western Painted passenger coaches and the #478, a K-28 Mikado.

On Saturday, Jarrette was front Brakeman on the #478 Photo Special while George rode and enjoyed the many run bys by taking video and still photos.

It left Durango at 6:30am and returned as the last entrant to the Parade of Trains at the Durango Depot.

Jeff played music on the Presidential Dinner Special on Sunday. Overall, it is a fun weekend and if given the chance, plan a trip out here in August to attend. We offer Factory Tours at SoundTraxx as well to complement the events in town for the week. For more information on Railfest, please visit http://www.durangotrain.com/

Blackstone Models:
In our first installment of the Blackstone Models development process, Jeff Johnson, The Project Manager for Blackstone Models, discussed the decisions that go into determining the viability of a project and product selection. In this week’s entry, Jeff will focus on the research and development that goes into each new product to ensure the quality and accuracy for the new designs.

Through the years, there has been a maze of information and drawings compiled for many of the prototypes that we choose to re-create in HOn3. Most of the more popular drawings are quite fine in detail and dimensional integrity, while a few have appeared that are less than stellar in these respects and have occasionally resulted in questionable results when used for product development in the past. It became apparent early in our design process that we needed to get back to the original sources so we could use reasonably sound judgment as to the integrity of our model designs.
Does this mean that every fine rivet detail, nut, bolt, washer, etc. is always a flawless match for every single road number and era of a prototype? A qualified no on this one! Obviously a manufacturer has to determine a sensible way to bring a realistic model to fruition and also keep the development cost bearable for all. The qualifier for this one is that we find it very important to research the prototype early in our design phase so we may make decisions based on knowledge and not on ignorance due to hasty or incomplete data collection. Unavoidably, molding tolerances and model assembly processes will drive small compromises that are simply part of the manufacturing world, and we endeavor to know what we are starting from so that any such compromise is built on practical principals.
The following bullet points reflect the core of our resource material for model development and include the aspects we consider when observing information:
· Existing Prototypes
     We spend time in the field after locating the best surviving prototypes and measure them in great detail. At this stage, some very important considerations must be taken into account;
     1. Does the prototype generally match its appearance from the intended model era?
     2. Have subsequent/modern era rebuilds altered dimensions or detail placement?
     3. Does the prototype chosen best represent the entire class respective to subtle differences in individual pieces of rolling stock?
· Railroad Standard Drawings and Specifications
     In conjunction with studying the field dimensions, we pour through all original source
material we can obtain in order to confirm or challenge findings in the field. Occasionally,
certain aspects of official standard drawings have even been found to be incorrect when
compared to the “as built” prototype. We also pay close attention to specification revision
dates in order to confirm that this data is concurrent with the era we are re-creating.
· Study of Historical Photographs
This exercise cannot be underestimated as many subtle variances among cars and
locomotives may be observed depending on the photo vantage points and the era represented.
We may also note road number specific paint and lettering details that can be applied to the
models in the decoration phase.
· Consultation with Historians
Blackstone Models has been greatly enriched through our association with respected
researchers. We don’t assume that the results of our own discovery phase are always ground
breaking. In fact many individuals have spent years collecting and analyzing unpublished
photos and documentation that may support or challenge previous conclusions. We are
extremely grateful for the remarkable outpouring of data that we have gleaned through the
assistance of others.
· Existing Products Comparison
After detailed study through the steps listed above, one may ask why it is necessary to
compare this information with other products. This is not to attempt the critique of other
manufacturers’ work, but rather to earn a respect for model standards that have gone before us
and to understand the perceptions and expectations that may exist for our customers.
We have developed a great deal of respect for many manufacturers that have paved the way
through the years with wonderful kits and thoughtful research. In fact, a few of us here at
Blackstone Models were building these kits and collecting early brass locomotives in our
formative HOn3 years. For this inspiration, we are quite grateful!

After collecting the needed data, a fairly arduous task commences with the creation of 3D prototype solid model drawings, road number versions matrices, and model livery specifications. And it never fails….as we confirm the final requirements of our prototype design, a few additional details have emerged that we can’t resist incorporating into the final product.
In our next installment, we will pass on some “fun facts” in the prototype-to-model phase, culminating with final production and the delivery of our latest HOn3 offering to our doors in Durango.

SurroundTraxx Overview

SurroundTraxx is a surround sound system for your layout. Utilizing the Digitrax Transponding block-detection system, the locomotive is detected in a particular block and this information is relayed back to the command station.  SurroundTraxx listens for transponding communication and accordingly sends the sound profile of the detected locomotive to the speaker assigned to that region of the layout. As the locomotive traverses the layout, The Transponding detects the loco is in another block, and the SurroundTraxx transfers the sound to the speaker assigned to the new block.  This allows the sound of the locomotive to follow from speaker to speaker, simulating on-board sound.
The SurroundTraxx is capable for support of up to 6 sound zones
or up to 5 zones while utilizing a subwoofer.

The SurroundTraxx will simultaneously produce sound for up to 6 locos at a time, but will store up to 99 locomotive profiles. The sounds for each loco will follow that loco from speaker to speaker around the layout. Even if all 6 locos are in one zone, all the sounds will emanate from one speaker.  Setting up the locomotive profiles in the SurroundTraxx allows the user to fully customize the sounds for each loco, with multiple exhausts, whistles or horns, bells, air pumps or air compressors, coupler-clanks and more to faithfully match the intended prototypes.
Included in the box is the SurroundTraxx unit, a 6’ speaker harness, power supply, LocoNet cable and the User’s Guide on CD. We do not include speakers to allow the user to select the type of speakers they desire. For example, if Joe wants simple speakers on the layout fascia, he can use any bookshelf speaker, but if John wants to use the subwoofer, he would prefer less expensive, potentially smaller speakers, since the bass is coming from the subwoofer. Each layout is different as is the listener; so different speakers can be used with the SurroundTraxx to accommodate all preferences.
One example of the features built in the SurroundTraxx is the ability to add echo to a specific sound zone, giving the effect of running through a canyon. As the loco leaves this zone, the echo no longer applies to the sounds for that locomotive.
This is a new product that is shipping to dealers now.  We are currently working on updating the SoundTraxx website to provide more information about SurroundTraxx and the concept behind the technology.  Finally, big sound can come for the N- and Z- scalers with a full range of sound without having to fit tiny speakers onboard their locomotives.  If you have any questions about the implementation of SurroundTraxx, feel free to call us and we will be glad to assist in any way we can!

Monday, August 15, 2011

SoundBytes XXXIX

It’s been a really busy summer here. We have been getting the new sounds out to the dealers, getting SurroundTraxx packaged and shipped, attending the National Train Show in Sacramento, CA and last, hosting our annual Dealer Training here in Durango last week. It seems as though it was just the first of the year here! Time flies when you’re having fun, right!
In this edition, we will hear from Jeff Johnson from Blackstone Models in the first of 3 installments about the model selection processes we employ to select projects for Blackstone Models. Also, we will take a sneak peek at the Dealer Training seminar we held here last week. Last, for our Tech Tip, we will give some wiring advice to help with your decoder installations.

Dealer Training.
This is an annual Seminar we conduct in which we invite our dealers from around the globe. We spend 4 days helping them become more familiar with our products, SoundTraxx and Blackstone Models. This year, it was held at Ft. Lewis College in Durango, CO. During the week, we share the many features of our products, share the details of our product line, give them an overview of decoder installation, do a decoder installation, and program and set up the decoders for their in-store demo units! We also take a day to have a good time and ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Everybody has a good time, learns a lot and leaves with confidence in our products seeing the factory and seeing our commitment to producing a great product.

This year was especially fun. There was a rockslide on the railroad up in the mountains that caused our trip to be postponed a day. The biggest problem was we could not go all the way to Silverton, but we had a good time anyway! Some photos of the rockslide and its cleanup can be seen here:
This year was our biggest class ever with over 40 attendees from all across the continent. To see if your dealer has attended, look up their listing on our dealer page from our website. They will be designated with a large gold star!
We want to issue a big Thank You to all who attended this year, Ft. Lewis College, The Bar D Wranglers, The Durango and Silverton Railroad and all who made this past week a success for us and for all attendees.

Blackstone Models:
Product Development Primer
Written by Jeff Johnson
Blackstone Models has existed as a division of SoundTraxx since the announcement of our K-27 locomotive development in 2004. To date, Blackstone Models has released two distinct classes of HOn3 locomotives and eleven types of HOn3 rolling stock pieces.
Many of our customers have inquired about our development process (i.e. ‘how do you select a project, develop it, and decide how to release it to the market’). While certainly not exhaustive, this three-part presentation of our development process may help answer some basic questions you may have concerning Blackstone Models product releases.

With the release of the very first K-27s, boxcars, and stock cars, we felt assured that these staples of narrow gauge railroading would be well received by our core audience/potential customers. The unanswered question was how we needed to continue building a successful business while creating the quality of product that would continue to appeal to existing HOn3 modelers. The added goal was to introduce this wonderful corner of the hobby to budding modelers. First, let’s take a look back at the principals that we used to guide us in the quest to get rolling. Some salient points were agreed upon at the inception of our new division:
· Locomotives must be designed with reliable and consistent electrical pick-up
· Locomotives would be offered with state-of-the art sound systems that accurately capture various prototype sounds
· Each offering would be created “Ready-to Run”
· All models would be extensively tested during the development stage
· All of our models should be consistent with details that mirror the unique variations found on the prototype
· Thoughtful historical research would be key to satisfying the requirement of producing a model that accurately represents the era intended
· Customer service and support must be key to ensuring that our products are well received and that they will stand the test of time in realistic operating scenarios
While following these guidelines during the release of our first few products, lessons have been learned and new innovations have been created to ensure consistent quality.
As we find ourselves seven years down the road and a dozen or so releases behind us, the question is often begged: ”What’s next?”

Obviously, choosing a successful product release results from exploratory research that will ensure a reasonable return on the investment that will keep us afloat and able to expand for the future. This means that many departments of our organization must come together and review the viability of product proposals in order to ensure success. Key components to this process include:
· Customer Surveys (trade shows, online data collection, customer comment cards)
· Competitive Products Survey (we ask “what are we offering that is unique?”)
· Online Modeler Forum Feedback
· Manufacturing Limitations and Costs (How do we satisfy our customer requirements and work within our means for long term success?)
· Available Prototype Data (Do we have access to the prototypes and/or reliable historical data that ensures we may produce an accurate model?
Manufacturing requirements reach far beyond the obvious of how we can make a part or assembly. Minimum order quantities (MOQs), additional costs for producing unique version details, and potential delivery schedules are all figured into the decision of product viability. Today’s manufacturing costs are steadily rising, therefore the balance between additional investment for unique model versions must be very carefully weighed with the ability to produce and move a quantity that will constitute a successful release.
Considerable preliminary research of the model prototype and design must be conducted prior to our selection of the next release. Occasionally, it may take weeks or even months to find and gather enough information to simply determine the viability of a project as viewed from the design phase. This process is especially laborious when creating a model such as the C-19 considering the many detail and varying assembly requirements.

After satisfying the above-mentioned considerations, the excitement begins! We are ready to make our announcement to our customers and dealer network. During this time we are able to gather pre-orders that will help us determine the quantity we will want to produce. Immediately following this, the Blackstone Models design team is off to work finalizing the necessary research and pre-production drawings to submit to our manufacturer.
In our next installment of the development process we will give you a window to view the steps involved in bringing together the research prior to releasing our next model to the manufacturer. Stay tuned!

Tech Tip:
For our Tech Tip, We will share with you a few secrets regarding wiring in decoders and the wiring inside the models to help lead to a better install.
When cracking open a model to install a decoder, you may notice that the wires are not always the colors that you expect them to be. Sometimes, the two track pick-up wires from each side of the lead truck of a diesel, for example, may both be black. This can lead to potential issues when wiring up a drop-in style decoder. The color of the wire is irrelevant to its ultimate purpose, sending power from point A to point B. The colors are usually there to help in troubleshooting or following wiring diagrams. The inside of many models are assembled with the thought that the model will not be re-wired, so they may use whatever wire colors they have, or use black wires where they may be visible from outside the model.

Ultimately, do not always assume the wires are color coded correctly. We have seen instances where the red wire off an LED was attached to the negative lead while the black wire was attached to the positive lead!
The secret is not to panic. Take your time and use a multi-meter to test the model to be sure the wires go where you expect them to. For example, lets look at the track pick-up wires on the diesel. To start, set your multi-meter to Ohms, or if available, set it for use as a continuity tester. Take the exposed end of the wire and touch one lead of the meter to it. Take the other lead to the meter and touch wheels on one side of the truck assembly. If the meter reads 0 Ohms or in use as a continuity tester, it beeps, then this wire goes to that side of the truck, and label it as such. If you do not see any conductivity, then conduct the same test, but touch the wheels on the other side of the truck.
When conducting this test for lighting, be sure your meter does not send out too much voltage that could potentially burn out any small voltage lamps. Most wires to lights could be more easily traced.

Another tip to share is many of the factory-installed circuit boards have the wires held in place using small black plastic clips. (We call them snoods to reduce confusion with other board mounting clips). Our drop-in decoders are designed so that you can re-use these if you desire. Other boards have small plugs and do not come with these snoods.
In both cases, we suggest soldering the wires to the decoder for a more reliable and trouble-free connection.
When working on a model, be sure to take your time to ensure the decoder is installed properly and without any problems. Using these tips, you should be able to confidently peer into a model knowing that you will be able to figure out the wiring and wire in the decoder properly the first time. Also for more information and techniques, be sure to look at our decoder selector for installation documents showing step-by-step installs into specific locomotives.